Rival Queens: Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I

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Katie Lambert: Hello and welcome to the podcast. I'm Katie Lambert.

Sarah Dowdy: And I'm Sarah Dowdy. And we recently did a podcast on Queen Elizabeth I, and it got us thinking about her most important relationships while she was Queen. And today we're going to focus on her relationship with her cousin and fellow Queen, Mary Stuart.

Katie Lambert: Possibly her greatest rival. And since we already talked about Elizabeth's early life, let's talk a little bit about Mary Stuart's. Unlike Elizabeth, she was born a Queen. She was the child of King James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise. But her father died six days after her birth, and this causes a little trouble for baby Mary.

Sarah Dowdy: It does. Her grandmother is the sister of Henry VIII, so he immediately makes an attempt to control her. But the regency instead goes to her mother. Henry keeps at it and pursues what's called the rough wooing between his young son and Mary, hoping to make an alliance there. Mary's mother instead sends her off to France to be raised in the court of Henry II and De Medici.

Katie Lambert: And this was the nicest, most luxurious court in Europe at the time, so Mary was in good hands, and she had a lot of French relatives there. And again, unlike Elizabeth, she had a fairly happy childhood. It wasn't so fractured.

Sarah Dowdy: A stable childhood, yeah.

Katie Lambert: Right. And Mary grows up to be a beautiful young lady. She's about 5'11", very tall.

Sarah Dowdy: Which is remarkably tall for the Renaissance?

Katie Lambert: Yes. She's got red-gold hair and ambered eyes.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, Mary is really the perfect Renaissance Princess when she finally marries Henry and Catherine's eldest son, Francis in 1558. And they like each other; they've been raised pretty much as siblings. But it's - the marriage probably isn't consummated. He's a few years younger than her and he's very sickly.

Katie Lambert: And she thinks of him fondly but more in a brotherly sort of way than in a husbandly sort of way. Also in 1558, where the parallels start, Elizabeth I ascends to the throne. So Mary, through the Tudor line, is next in line. But Henry had an order of succession that had muddled things up a bit.

Sarah Dowdy: Catholics actually would consider Mary the Queen of England already, because Elizabeth - they don't recognize Elizabeth's parents' marriage, that of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. So to them Elizabeth is a Courtesan's bastard.

Katie Lambert: Right. And in 1559, Francis becomes King and Mary is his Queen Consort, and she begins putting on airs as far as this whole Queen of England things go, because she's safe, comfortable and powerful in France. She has very powerful in-laws and she can do what she wants with impunity for a while.

Sarah Dowdy: She certainly doesn't try to disabuse anybody of the idea that she's the rightful Queen of England. She and Francis actually start quartering their arms with that of England. So their proclaiming themselves rulers of France, Scotland and England, which is not something that's going to make Elizabeth very happy.

Katie Lambert: No. And in a sense, of course, Mary, by Henry's order of succession, had been disinherited, or her line had been. So this does make sense. But the trouble between the two Queens begins around 1560, when Mary refuses to sign the Treaty of Edinburgh.

Sarah Dowdy: And the basic back story on that, there's been a long alliance between France and Scotland and it's getting less and less popular with the increasingly Protestant Scottish Lords, who are ready to see themselves freed of France. And England backs them and they put together this Treaty of Edinburgh and obviously Mary, as Queen Consort of France, as well as Queen of Scotland, can't advocate breaking up this relationship. She embodies this relationship.

Katie Lambert: Right. And she'd also have to then officially recognize Elizabeth as the Queen of England instead of herself.

Sarah Dowdy: It's tantamount to renouncing her own claim to the English throne.

Katie Lambert: But further muddling matters at the time, her husband, Francis, dies of an ear infection. So she's 18, she's Dowager Queen in France, and it is time for Mary to return home to Scotland where, again, she hasn't been since she was a baby.

Sarah Dowdy: So things start to get more personal around now. She asks Elizabeth for safe conduct crossing the channel should she be forced to land on English soil. Elizabeth gives her a pretty snappy answer, which she actually sails before she can even receive it, but there would be no safe conduct and no welcome for the Queen of Scots and her cousin's realm until she had fulfilled her obligations by ratifying the Treaty, as she was honor bound to do.

Katie Lambert: And Mary was pretty much just sorry she'd asked. She was offended by this response. And the international community also wasn't thrilled with Elizabeth's behavior. They thought, she's hassling her young, beautiful, newly widowed cousin, and it simply wasn't appropriate.

Sarah Dowdy: Who's a Queen?

Katie Lambert: Right. So Elizabeth comes back from that and tries to play nice and tells Mary that in fact they do have a sisterly friendship and after all, she didn't send her Navy after her. So it's very benevolent.

Sarah Dowdy: The essential fact here is that Mary, as a teen Queen Consort over in France in one thing to Elizabeth, but Mary Queen of Scots back on the marriage market is another issue entirely.

Katie Lambert: Right, because with Mary coming back to Scotland, Elizabeth now has a dynastic threat. There's also the possibility of religious conflict because Mary had told the Pope she intended to restore the Catholic faith to Scotland and of course -

Sarah Dowdy: Which had gone Protestant in the absence?

Katie Lambert: Right. And Elizabeth is a staunch Protestant as well. And she was also extremely pretty, extremely powerful and a rival to all of Elizabeth's potential suitors.

Sarah Dowdy: Elizabeth isn't the most eligible Queen in Europe any more. And that really bugs her. But on the other hand, she sees Mary as a potential compatriot. She is her cousin after all, and she's a fellow female monarch, which is a very unique situation to be in.

Katie Lambert: So Mary returns to Scotland in 1561 and her life as a potential Queen Consort in this fancy French court has made it very difficult for her to know how to run things. She simply hasn't been raised that way and she doesn't have the tools she needs to be as powerful as she needs to be.

Sarah Dowdy: She hasn't been raised and educated as a Prince, she's been educated as a Queen Consort, and that's a very different job.

Katie Lambert: And most troublesome of all are the Scottish nobles.

Sarah Dowdy: The Scottish nobles are really difficult to deal with. They're more interested in fluffing up their own feathers kind of, and having private feuds. They're always feuding with each other. Then supporting the crown! And we have to consider too, there has been a regency while the Queen has been a minority, for 18 years. So they haven't had a strong ruler for a generation.

Katie Lambert: Mary does okay, at least at first with her illegitimate half-brother James, Earl of Moray. She comes to a sort of policy of religious tolerance. So at least in that respect there's no more fighting, or things are at somewhat of a peace, as far as religion goes.

Sarah Dowdy: She can practice her Catholic religion but not pull a Mary Tudor, for instance, and have everyone burned at the stake.

Katie Lam bert: And some people are happy to have her there, because again, they've had that regency for so long, they haven't had a Monarch around in a long time and she is beautiful and charming and pleasant to be around. So, you know, maybe she'll be good for Scotland after all.

Sarah Dowdy: And when she gets back to Scotland, she immediately starts working on Elizabeth to be named Elizabeth's heir, of which, as we said earlier, by birth she would be.

Katie Lambert: But she's sort of downgraded her ambitions at this point. She's not trying to be named Queen of England.

Sarah Dowdy: She's not calling herself Queen of England any more. Quartering her arms!

Katie Lambert: She just wants to be Elizabeth's heir. And Mary likes and dislikes Elizabeth as well. These aren't just complicated feelings on a Elizabeth's part, because on one hand Elizabeth has been helping the Protestants cause trouble for Mary and Scotland. But friendly relationships would only help.

Sarah Dowdy: They both realize it would benefit them to be friendly.

Katie Lambert: Right. But Elizabeth can't name Mary her heir. And this is what's at least somewhat at the crux of their relationship; because that's one of the reasons Elizabeth never wanted to get married at all. She didn't want to name an heir in her lifetime, because it would be a threat to her, and there's a really good quote about that.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, she says, think you that I could love my winding sheet when as examples show, Princes cannot even love their children that are to succeed them. And she goes on to say that she's been a witness to this desire to overthrow the current Prince with whoever the heir is. Something she's seen in her sister's lifetime, when Mary Tudor was Queen, people were saying it's time for Elizabeth, Elizabeth should be Queen instead. So she knows what it's like.

Katie Lambert: And so her fear and reluctance in that context make sense with her being friends with Mary. But they are quite cordial at least for a time, and Mary is even a bit courtly. On seeing her cousin Elizabeth's portrait, she said she wished that one of them was a man so that their kingdoms could be united by marital alliances. Which we thought was really interesting; because of course that is how you played the game then. You married off eligible people to create these political alliances. But when you had these two -

Sarah Dowdy: Two single Queens, it was stalemate.

Katie Lambert: - single - you can't do that.

Sarah Dowdy: What's going to happen?

Katie Lambert: One of them is going to win, and we'll see which one a little bit later.

Sarah Dowdy: So they both really want to meet each other though, and they come pretty close to it in 1562, but a religious war between the Catholics and Huguenots in France upsets the meeting and they're really devastated by it. Mary apparently cried all day and was only consoled when somebody told her that Elizabeth was just as upset. So there's a real personal element to this relationship too. They're curious about each other.

Katie Lambert: But the thorn in their relationship, of course, is the fact that they both are two single Queens. But Elizabeth has of course set herself up as the Virgin Queen, a reputation she's worked very hard to maintain. Whereas Mary, on the other hand, temperamentally isn't suited to be single! She doesn't want to be, And she also has to think about the interests of Scotland. It is in her interest to get married. But of course any choice she makes, much like Elizabeth, is pretty much impossible.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, Elizabeth thinks that she'll be okay with Mary's choice, as long as it's somebody agreeable to the English. Namely, not a Catholic Prince from Spain, Austria or France, which would be a very powerful alliance that Elizabeth does not want to happen!

Katie Lambert: So instead she offers up a man named Robert Dudley, and we'll talk about him more in another podcast in relationship to Elizabeth. But he was Elizabeth's great love. So -

Sarah Dowdy: So this is a weird match.

Katie Lambert: Right. And it was also an insulting one to Mary, because Dudley was a low birth and he's tainted because he's implicated in the very mysterious death of his wife. So Mary is genuinely insulted by this idea of a match.

Sarah Dowdy: He's kind of Elizabeth's reject. Elizabeth can't marry him herself at this point.

Katie Lambert: And Dudley's not interested in this match either. So he doesn't want to move to Scotland and leave Elizabeth.

Sarah Dowdy: No. So she's game playing a little bit. And Mary herself is trying to arrange something with Don Carlos, who is Philip II's heir and it's good this doesn't work out because -

Katie Lambert: Prince of Spain.

Sarah Dowdy: - Don Carlos is not a great guy.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, so Mary declines and invitation to meet with Elizabeth, which, of course, greatly offends Elizabeth. And eventually Mary's advisors write to Elizabeth's advisors, my guys will call your guys, and tell her that Mary won't even consider marrying Dudley, unless Elizabeth would settle succession on her. And after that Elizabeth's quiet. The game is over, Mary has called her on it basically.

Sarah Dowdy: But at this point another possible suitor enters the game and his name is Lord Darnley. So Lord Darnley made a little shot at Mary when she was first widowed. His mother sent him to France to press his suit with Mary. She wasn't interested at the time. But Elizabeth was very disturbed by this, because Lord Darnley is also a Tudor claimant. He's a cousin of Mary's. Elizabeth doesn't want any consolidation of the Tudor claims. So when Darnley returns from France, she has him and his mother arrested. But by this time they've patched things up, Elizabeth is okay with them again. She lets Darnley go to Scotland on family business, whatever that might be. And it's kind of suspicious here, because she knows what Darnley's intention is regarding Mary.

Katie Lambert: Not honorable, let's put it that way. Or at least honorable that he wants to marry her.

Sarah Dowdy: But he's not an honorable guy. There are several accounts of him being basically someone who's really nice on the outside, and once you get to know him you realize -

Katie Lambert: Vicious. He's described as vicious.

Sarah Dowdy: - just how bad he is. Yeah. So it's kind of suspicious that Elizabeth is sending him. She might know how this all plays out.

Katie Lambert: Right, and planning this is something that could possibly ruin May.

Sarah Dowdy: Ruin Mary.

Katie Lambert: So three nights before Darnley arrives, spectral warriors are seen fighting in the streets of Edinburgh at midnight. And I think -

Sarah Dowdy: That can't be good.

Katie Lambert: - we can all agree that's a bad omen. And soon enough -

Sarah Dowdy: Mary welcomes him and soon enough falls in love with him. They're both young, they're both very attractive, and as Katie said earlier, being single does not suit Mary. And they announce their engagement, and I love this, so Elizabeth has let Darnley go to Scotland knowing what might happen. But she completely plays dumb and is shocked by the engagement and arrests Darnley's mother. And Mary quite understandable is saying, hey, I thought you wanted me to marry a English guy, and I am.

Katie Lambert: So they get married in July of 1565, and it is quickly revealed to Mary that she has made a very bad choice. Darnley is simply not a good guy. And it's not just her who decides to hate him; it's all of the Scottish Lords.

Sarah Dowdy: All those contentious Lords did not like Darnley, and things get really bad by March 1566, so less than a year after the marriage. In the Rizzio murder, Darnley and other Lords plot to murder Mary's favorite in front of her. She's heavily pregnant by this point and they're hoping that she'll be so shocked by seeing this man killed in front of her, you know, at her feet essentially, that she's be debilitated and Darnley will act as maybe a Regent or maybe a King.

Katie Lambert: It's just completely delusional thinking because no one would have ever let that happen. Again, they hated him. So Mary is confined for a few days and she is much brighter than her somewhat dimwitted husband, and she convinces him that the conspirators are going to go after him next.

Sarah Dowdy: There's no way he's going to be a Regent or a co-ruler or something.

Katie Lambert: No. So she gets all of his conspirator's names out of him and they end up escaping through servant quarters and ride 25 miles to safety.

Sarah Dowdy: Once again, while she's heavily pregnant. The relations between Elizabeth and Mary actually improve after this, after obviously Elizabeth was disappointed with Mary's choice of husband and things had gotten a little frosty there. But Elizabeth is so horrified that something like this would happen in front of a fellow sovereign Queen, an anointed Queen, that she warms up to Mary again.

Katie Lambert: Right. And when Mary gives birth to her son James, in June 1566, she names Elizabeth as the Godmother. And in a fun little story, Elizabeth sends a gold font for the baby, but not realizing that the Baptism took place a few months after the birth. The font she sent was much too small for -

Sarah Dowdy: She's really embarrassed.

Katie Lambert: - that little baby [inaudible].

Sarah Dowdy: But the birth doesn't help Mary and Darnley reconcile. And she's starting to think, okay, I have a male heir. How can I get rid of this husband. She was really upset about the prospect of spending her days with him.

Katie Lambert: But annulment is out of the question, because that would mean that James is illegitimate and she can't do that. She needs an heir. So her options are pretty much divorce or arresting him for treason. But the question is answered for her in 1567.

Sarah Dowdy: So on the night of February 9th, Mary is supposed to spend the night with Darnley, but she realizes at the last minute that she has a mask to attend and goes out. Meanwhile, Darnley's room is blown up, seriously, and he runs out into the night naked and is strangled to death. That's quite a story, and we're going to talk about it more later, because it's too good to pass up.

Katie Lambert: Now that'll be a different podcast. But after his death, Mary doesn't conduct herself in the wisest manner. In fact, she married the chief suspect, James Hepburn, who is the 4th Earl of Bothwell, just three months after the death and also after he abduct and ravished her, according to accounts.

Sarah Dowdy: And that's always been unclear, was it a willing abduction or did this guy just steal her for real.

Katie Lambert: And he's married at the time. So he's granted a divorce to marry her, so again, things aren't looking to great as far as Mary's choices are going. But she may just have been very simple sad at that point. She's in ill health; she needs a strong man to help her manage Scotland. She's already married once badly and she's, you know, go her heir and has to figure out how she's going to live the rest of her life.

Sarah Dowdy: True, but Elizabeth is disgusted by Mary's actions and she even compares them to her own relation with her true love, Dudley and his wife's mysterious death and how she's conducted herself so properly after this, contrasted with Mary running away with this guy.

Katie Lambert: Elizabeth even wants little Prince James sent to England so she can rear him under her protection, rather than him being with Mary and this strange new man.

Sarah Dowdy: But Mary and Bothwell part ways on June 15, 1567. He's forced into exile and imprisonment by those Lords who, you know, having just gotten rid of Darnley, they're not wiling to put up with Bothwell. But Mary herself is imprisoned on a tiny island in the middle of a loch, and deposed in favor of her one year old son, James.

Katie Lambert: And Elizabeth is completely outraged. She was outraged by Mary's actions to being with, but now she's even more outraged by what the Scottish Lords have done by deposing Mary, because Elizabeth has very strong viewpoints about, again, appropriate behavior one, and about the monarchy and how you treat -

Sarah Dowdy: An anointed Queen.

Katie Lambert: - a sovereign. And this was simply in appropriate, and a lot of historians have suggested that if Elizabeth hadn't protested so much against their actions, then the Scottish Lords would have executed Mary.

Sarah Dowdy: Without much ado at all. And that really is the crux of their relationship. This is why Elizabeth hesitates over the Mary question for so long. Because actively trying to depose or sentence to death a fellow monarch sets a really dangerous precedent, and it's not something Elizabeth wants to get into.

Katie Lambert: But in contrast, all these helpful things she's doing, at the same time in March of 1568, Elizabeth is eyeing Mary's jewels, which of course have been put up for auction, and she outbids Catherine De Medici for her pearls. And you'll see them in several State portraits.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, so -

Katie Lambert: It's a classy [inaudible].

Sarah Dowdy: Mary's briefly liberate the following year and tries to seek refuge in England with her cousin Elizabeth. She's probably thinking, hey Elizabeth has been pretty nice and helpful lately. But this is a really bad move because Elizabeth uses as an excuse issues surrounding Darnley's murder and hold Mary in a series of prisons for the next 18 years.

Katie Lambert: And the English Tribunal delivers the only verdict they can against Mary, because there's nothing that can be proved, but Elizabeth can't let her go either, because Mary at this point has gotten interested again in claiming the English throne because she doesn't want the Scottish one back. And I mean, really, would you?

Sarah Dowdy: It's pretty understandable.

Katie Lambert: And the tempo of her live has changed at this point. She's gone from being this romantic adventurous figure and this whirlwind life -

Sarah Dowdy: Always feeling on horseback and -

Katie Lambert: Exactly. To spending 20 years in prison practicing her religion and working on her embroidery.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah, she's - her embroidery is kind of an interesting side note. They actually have been books written solely about Mary's embroidery. She was really good at it. But she would use symbolism. I really like Rendering of a Ginger Cat Playing with a Mouse, which was a reference to the red-haired Elizabeth toying with poor little mouse Mary/

Katie Lambert: But most of her time in prison is really sad and her health suffers, her beauty diminishes and she resolves to get out. First by pleading with Elizabeth, but also she is scheming from the very beginning.

Sarah Dowdy: Elizabeth's chief advisor actually warns her, the Queen of Scots is and always shall be a dangerous person to your estate. And that is very much true. Mary has started plotting against Elizabeth almost as soon as she was in England. And unfortunately she's the number one hope for English Catholics, so basically any rebellion you have that's trying to unseat Elizabeth is going to look to Mary as the woman to put on the throne in her stead.

Katie Lambert: And one of the plots in 1570 was a big deal. The Ridolfi Plot, which was your average, run-of-the-mill Catholic plot to assassinate Elizabeth and replace her with Mary! But after this particular event, Elizabeth never again considers restoring Mary.

Sarah Dowdy: And she recognizes James VI as King of Scotland.

Katie Lambert: But Mary's security get tighter around 1584. She's been living as a Queen imprisoned, but it goes into major lockdown mode by this point. And there are also new laws against plotting treason in England by this point. And Elizabeth is afraid that she might have to kill Mary under them, and goes to the now grown James and asks if you and your mother would be willing to co-rule. And he's unwilling to do this. He's seeing a future for himself as not only King of Scotland, but King of England. And Elizabeth tries to hide this betrayal from Mary.

Sarah Dowdy: Which was kind, but the end finally happens in a plot that was sent through beer barrels. Mary is under this heavy security, but these beer barrels are like the one -

Katie Lambert: The one chink in the armor.

Sarah Dowdy: But even then, even after yet another plot comes up where it's clear to Elizabeth that Mary is still conspiring against her, she waivers for months about doing anything about it.

Katie Lambert: She even declares, I am not free, but a captive. She knows that their lives are entwined together forever.

Sarah Dowdy: And finally though, Mary is executed on February 8th, 1587. And she goes to her death in a very dignified manner.

Katie Lambert: And when the fact of her death is broken to Elizabeth, she's almost hysterical.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah.

Katie Lambert: She dresses in mourning, she cries, she rages against those who drove her to do this, so much so that her advisors get out of town because they're afraid -

Sarah Dowdy: Worried for their -

Katie Lambert: - of what she'll do.

Sarah Dowdy: - heads.

Katie Lambert: Right. And she's also afraid, truly deeply afraid, that God will punish her for what she's done.

Sarah Dowdy: And she's - part of this is certainly personal. This was a hard personal decision for Elizabeth to make. But she's also worried that her international reputation will be shot, that she's put a Catholic martyr to death, not just a treasonous Queen. And some of this rage and these crying fits are to show the world that she's upset by this.

Katie Lambert: So while the relationship between the thistle and the rose came to a bloody end, the interesting thing is that despite this long history have with one another, they've never met.

Sarah Dowdy: No, and Mary never stopped pleading for personal contact. She was a very charming woman and she was sure that she could charm her cousin too. And Elizabeth was interested at first in this but became more and more distant. And she's afraid of the charm. She's afraid that Mary will enchant her or worse upstage her, be prettier and more impressive than the grate Queen Elizabeth.

Katie Lambert: She said at one point, there is something sublime in the words and bearing of the Queen of Scots that constrains even her enemies to speak well of her. And again, since they never met, they had the opportunity to make the other one larger than life in their minds. Less, excuse me, more than human.

Sarah Dowdy: Yeah. And it's funny too to consider their reputations. Elizabeth always played up the masculinity of her strength, even though she was a very emotional woman. And Mary has always been seen as the emotional one, even though honestly she's more ruthless. She would have seen Elizabeth murdered because she was so desperate, while Elizabeth takes forever to sentence her to death.

Katie Lambert: So between t his battle of the rival Queens, they both end up winning and losing in the end. Elizabeth makes James her heir and every British monarch since then has been a descendant of Mary. But James of course was a Protestant heir, which was the cause dear to Elizabeth's heart.

Sarah Dowdy: And the best conclusion to this story is that when James becomes King, he brings his mother's remains to Westminster Abbey and builds a magnificent marble tomb for the lady chapel with a Scottish lion at her feet, and the tomb lies just across the isle from, you guessed it, that of Elizabeth.

Katie Lambert: Together forever. So we will end with the words of Elizabeth, who wrote a sonnet about Mary, and said, "the daughter of debate that eke discord doth so, shall reap no gain where former rule hath taught still peace to grow."

Sarah Dowdy: So Katie, does that about sum it up?

Katie Lambert: I think that does it for today. But if you'd like to learn more about the Queens of old, check out our article, How Royalty Works and look for our blogs on the home page at www.HowStuffWorks.com.

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